Covid-19, digital acceleration, digitized citizens

The more isolated and socially distanced, the more connected and connected digitally

Photos: DepositPhotos

Following my previous article, I return to the theme of Covid-19, to reflect a little on the digital acceleration it triggers.

It is clear to me that, as long as we are not all immunized or vaccinated, the pandemic will return in successive waves, smaller, it is true, but still generating fear and anxiety. At issue, our way of life as we know it and practice it today.

Here are some facets of this digital acceleration, our virtual realism or our real virtuality, as citizens increasingly digitized.

1. The growth of biometrics and artificial intelligence in healthcare
The Covid-19 pandemic inevitably brings a substantial change in the relationship between the disease, the patient and the national health service, in two fundamental areas: in the quality and speed of the information that the patient sends to the health services and in the quality and speed with which the services treat and resolve the disease in question.

The digitization of this relationship is inevitable. Biometrics measures the patient's vital signs, artificial intelligence shortens the time for diagnosis and response of services. Data will henceforth be the new source of knowledge.

2. The growth of telecommuting
The Covid-19 pandemic, in a time of health emergency, had an immediate consequence, namely, the growth of distance work or telecommuting via various online communication networks.

The degree of digital dematerialization of tasks and services varies widely and depends on the specific nature of each activity.

The pandemic ended up accelerating the digital transformation and this possibility made possible not only the continuity of online services, but also the reconciliation with family obligations, at such a difficult time.

3. The growth of distance learning
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an appreciable impact on the education system at all grades. The disruption was, almost, brutal, but the reaction of the schools was very positive and it suggests substantial changes in the teaching models in the near future.

The majority opinion agrees that the full attendance regime is exhausted and more flexible and imaginative models are essential. In this regard, there is also an appreciable deficit in terms of digital infrastructure and the next generation of public investment will have to fill these fundamental deficiencies.

4. The growth of the online community of caregivers and outpatient services
The Covid-19 pandemic has a very significant impact on the various needs of senior society. In this area so delicate and sensitive we have to be very flexible and imaginative.

An ethics of permanent care, recognition of formal and informal caregivers and a good online community of caregivers in their relationship with public services, together with outpatient home services, is what seems to be a good solution to respond to the challenge that the pandemic launched us.

5. The growth of robotics and the automated industry
The Covid-19 pandemic will also accelerate the digital transformation of industrial companies in many of its dimensions.

In addition to digitizing administrative procedures, an important part of industrial production will also be automated.

These two transformation processes, the administrative and the industrial, will progressively reduce the traditional contingent of administrative and industrial workers.

The period of layoffs which follows can accelerate this transformation, as industrial companies will be able to use the next 2 months to carry out their digital transformation. We are at a crucial moment to think about the reindustrialization of the country.

6. The growth of online commerce
The Covid-19 pandemic has a significant impact on the growth of online commerce as a result of strict enforcement of the state of emergency. But we are only at the beginning stages of this virtualization movement.

Today, in hypermarkets, customers can register their purchases in automatic machines. Tomorrow, you will probably start doing a part of online shopping at a distance.

We are facing a far-reaching movement, which younger generations will adopt as the digital society creates its routines, but which is also of interest to large supermarkets as it allows them to dematerialize and substantially reduce some fixed costs.

7. The growth of online public services
The Covid-19 pandemic, due to the isolation and social distance it causes, will serve to further expand a movement that is already unstoppable at this point.

I refer to online public services and also to the ecosystem of digital services created by the so-called Smart City. In the first case, there is a constant improvement in the digital sites and platforms of the central public administration, in the second case, a small revolution is underway in the local administration with regard to the provision of municipal "large services", but also and perhaps more relevant, to the “small services” that have to do with the well-being and quality of life of the local society.

Greater difficulty, the digital illiteracy of the elderly population. Here, parish councils have an irreplaceable role of digital transition.

8. The growth of collaborative platforms in the local economy
The Covid-19 pandemic draws our attention to the importance of proximity economies and local supply systems, with particular relevance to community agriculture, short marketing circuits and small door-to-door distribution.

This small proximity economy can span many small business areas, but it will only work with a modicum of effectiveness if it rests on shared common values ​​and a modicum of autonomous organization that locally-based digital collaborative platforms can provide.

For example, a union of parishes, a local development association or an association of municipalities can very well be the network actor of this collaborative platform.

9. The growth of professions related to big data, open data e cloud computing
Everything we said above, regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the systemic effects it causes, has a translation, to a greater or lesser extent, in the digital infrastructure of the territories.

And from this point of view, the warning is right now, we cannot tolerate the creation of new regional asymmetries, this time digital fractures between territories, and all the more so as the country's 5G capacity is now being discussed, precisely.

In the near future, the so-called 4V – volume, speed, value and truth – of the digital society will demand the collection and processing of sufficient data about all of us (big data), its safe storage and in conditions of full use (cloud computing) and its full transparency with regard to access and reservation rights (open data).

10. The growth of digital surveillance features and activities
The Covid-19 pandemic, at all times before, has tightened the digital grid and digitized citizens. Let's say that, unwittingly, the pandemic has created a greater digital addition in citizens.

The more isolated and socially distanced, the more digitally connected and connected.

It is not with impunity that all this happens and, for this very reason, it is essential that citizens are alerted to this perverse systemic effect, if it is not used with account, weight and measure.

As is known in East Asian countries, the exponential growth of digital surveillance may conflict with the fundamental principles of our democratic experience. Hopefully, once the state of emergency is over, everything returns to normality, a normality made up of freedom, tolerance and common sense.

Final Notes
In conclusion, digital acceleration and the digitization of citizens seem inevitable, we just have to avoid their undesirable effects.

Second, the growth of public and private spending on digital infrastructure and equipment, as well as the fight against digital illiteracy, are two major challenges in the short term.

Thirdly, it is essential to ensure the balance between the 4V in the value chain that joins Big data, data centers e open data.

Fourth, it is a democratic political imperative that the digitization of the citizen is balanced by the values ​​and practices of hospitality, solidarity and conviviality.

Fifthly, the emerging digital society must be very attentive to this new generation of screeners which includes very special “digital specimens”, for example, nerds, geeks, hackers, slashers, makers, developers, Among others.

In the end, and similarly to what happened in the XNUMXth century with the formation of industrial and commercial schools, I dared to suggest for the XNUMXst century, in each inter-municipal community and in big cities, the creation of a “technological school, arts, culture” in secondary education, in order to safeguard the desirable balance between technology and humanity.



Author António Covas is a Retired Full Professor at the University of Algarve